SAN FRANCISCO - This city is known for its hospitality. So it's no surprise that this week's meeting of America's Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry's national trade association, was greeted by a "welcoming committee."
But that committee, several hundred strong June 16 on the sidewalk in front of Moscone Center downtown, had a message that AHIP members probably didn't want to hear.
"Everybody in, nobody out!" they chorused, demanding passage of SB 810, a state single payer-health care bill now before the California legislature, and "Medicare for All" across the nation.
"I'm here today because no one in America should have to worry about whether they can afford health care for themselves or their families," said California Nurses Association Co-President DeAnn McEwen. "Healthy people are our country's greatest national resource."
United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly galvanized the crowd with his account of the Montana town that, in the wake of a terrible industrial accident, now has single-payer health care for all its residents.
When pollution from an asbestos mine sickened residents of Libby and surrounding areas, Kelly said, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., turned to Medicare. "They declared that the entire town was eligible for Medicare. Because it is single payer, it was the only way to get coverage for absolutely everyone. If Baucus can do that, that's what we must do in California and the nation."
(Interestingly, Baucus opposed including single payer in negotiations for last year's health care reform bill.)
In a statement presented by aide Kim Alvarenga, State Assembly member Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, emphasized the importance of covering everyone, including immigrants, documented and undocumented. He said SB 810 "provides universal health care for every single resident of the state ... Every person in this country, regardless of race, gender identity, age, disability or legal status has a human right to quality affordable health care."
Several members of the Chinese Progressive Association's Youth MOJO (Youth Movement of Justice Organizing) told how losing health coverage has affected them and their families, and described their work for universal health care, immigrant rights and other social justice issues.
Among the speakers and the crowd were members of many unions and community organizations, including the California Alliance for Retired Americans.
The California legislature has previously passed single-payer legislation, only to see it vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This year, State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced SB 810, which has nine cosponsors in the Senate and 20 in the Assembly.
Last month, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who campaigned on the issue, signed a bill taking the first step toward establishing a statewide single-payer system. In coming years, the legislature will flesh out the program, which is to take effect in 2017.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW